How To Play Pai Gow Poker – The Best Strategies and Rules

pai gow poker

7 minutes

Posted by: Ivan

Invented back in the 1980s, Pai Gow Poker is another popular form of banked poker, giving players a chance to try their luck and skills against the casino.

If you happen to be familiar with Chinese Poker, you’ll quickly get a feel for this game as the rules of Pai Gow poker are quite similar.

The house edge of Pai Gow is about 2.8%, which is quite decent all things considered. More importantly, because of the way the game is played, the volatility is very low. Many hands will end up in a tie (push), which means you’re often able to play long sessions without making a serious dent to your poker bankroll.

Pai Gow Poker isn’t particularly demanding, and with a bit of practice and a basic understanding of what it takes to beat the dealer, you should do just fine.

That said, this article will teach you fundamental Pai Gow rules and offer some strategy advice as well to help you play the best way possible.

How To Play Pai Gow Poker – Basic Rules

Although it almost goes without saying, the goal of Pai Gow Poker is to beat the dealer, just like in 3 Card Poker or  Ultimate Texas Holdem or any other casino poker game for that matter. To do this, you’ll need to make two separate hands that are both stronger than the dealer’s two hands. Just stick with me, you will soon see what is going on.

how to play pai gow poker

The game is played with the standard deck of 52 cards with the addition of a Joker.

Joker is semi-wild in the Pai Gow game, as it can be used to complete any straights or flushes. In all other instances, the Joker is counted as an Ace.

One thing to check in the rules of a particular casino is whether the wheel (A 2 3 4 5) is counted as it is or as the second-highest straight. Some venues still count the wheel as the second-best straight (for whatever reason), and it’s obviously an important piece of information to have before you start.

A hand of Pai Gow Poker begins with all players posting their ante bet. After that, everyone (including the dealer) receives seven cards, face down. When you receive your cards, you’ll have a chance to look at them and will need to arrange them in two separate hands:

  • One five-card hand combination
  • One two-card hand

As mentioned, the best result you can achieve is for both of your hands to beat both of the dealer’s hands. Standard poker hands rankings are used to determine the winner, i.e., one pair beats a high-card hand, two pair beat any single pair, etc.

pai gow poker hand rankings

One very important rule in Pai Gow to keep in mind is that your top (two-card hand) must never be stronger than your bottom (five-card) hand.

For example, if you have a pair of 10s at the bottom, you can’t place a pair of Jacks at the top. If you do this, your hand is fouled, and you’ll forfeit your bet.

Pai Gow Poker Payouts

As far as the rules of Pai Gow Poker are concerned, all you need to know is described above. Once all players are done setting up their hands, the dealer will arrange their hand. After that, they’ll compare their hands to the players’ hands and pay the winners.

  • If both of your hands beat the both of the dealer’s hands, you’ll be paid at 1:1 on your ante
  • If you beat one hand but lose on the second one, the bet is pushed back (a tie)
  • The dealer wins all ties, i.e., if you have the exact same hand, like a pair of Kings in your top hand, the dealer wins

It is important to note that most casinos charge a 5% commission on your winnings, which adds to the house edge. Some places have done away with this practice, which makes the game much better for the player. If there is no commission involved, the house edge is estimated to be just around 1.3%.

pai gow poker rules online

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Side Bets in Pai Gow Poker

Over the years, the game has evolved to include a number of variations. All of these have pretty much the same basic rules. However, some of them will also let you place side bets, which adds to the excitement and provides a possibility for some big wins.

When side bets are available, you’re basically betting that you’ll make a hand that’s at least three of a kind or better.

Side bets don’t have anything to do with your main wagers and are paid independently of the outcome of the hand. Here are common Pai Gow Poker payout tables:

Of course, side bets increase the house edge (and quite significantly at that), so if this is something you’re concerned about, you should avoid them. At the same time, side bets are the only way you can win really big in Pai Gow Poker, even if you have to get lucky for that happen.

Pai Gow Poker Strategy

Since there aren’t any betting decisions to be made along the way, Pai Gow isn’t too complicated of a game from the strategic point of view. The only bet you’ll ever make is the one at the start of the hand, and you’ll never need to think about other bets and whether they’re worth making.

However, you still have some decisions to make in terms of how you’ll arrange the cards in your hand.

pai gow strategy tips

Keeping in mind that your top (low) hand must always be lower ranked than the bottom (high) hand, you need to think about what the best outcome you can hope for is.

To make a profit on a hand of Pai Gow game, you’ll need to beat both of the dealer’s hands, so making a very strong hand at the back while having something like 9-high at the top usually won’t cut it.

You’re much better off having two fairly strong hands than having one super-strong hand coupled with air.

Here are a few simple tips to keep in mind when arranging your Pai Gow hand:

  • If you’re dealt no made hand (a pair or better), leave your highest ranking card in the back and put two second highest-ranking cards in the front
  • Always split pairs if you have AA with any other pair, two high pairs (JJ through AA) or a high pair coupled with a medium pair (7s through 10s)
  • Split two medium pairs or a combination of a high pair and a low pair (22 through 66) unless you have an Ace. If you have an Ace, you can play two pair in the back and Ace-high in the front
  • Always split two medium pairs or a medium and low pair combo unless you have an Ace or a King. If you have one of these, you can also play Ace or King-high in the front with two pair in the back
  • Always play trips in your back hand unless it’s trip Aces. Split Aces into a pair in the back and Ace-high in the front
  • If you have quads that are JJ+, always split them into two pair
  • Split quad 77 through TT into two pair unless you have an Ace to play in the front
  • With quad 6s or lower, keep quads in the back and play whatever the best hand you can make is in the front
  • Always split full houses into a trips + a pair combo unless you also have an extra pair to go with it. In that case, you should play the higher of the pairs in the low hand
  • Always split five aces (when you have a Joker) unless you have a pair of Kings to put in the front

This is pretty much all the Pai Gow Poker strategy you need to know. It may feel like a lot of information, but most of it makes sense when you think about it for a while, so you should have no problems memorizing it.

Plus, when you’re playing online, you are free to have these tips open on the side and refer to them if you find yourself in a situation where you’re uncertain what the best play might be.

Conclusion: Enjoy Pai Gow Poker Games

Although Pai Gow Poker isn’t as wide-spread in live casinos, probably due to the fact hands can take a while to complete (and casinos aren’t particularly keen on that), you can find plenty of places online to play the game for free and for real money alike.

If you enjoy Open Face Chinese Poker, you’re probably going to love Pai Gow as well. This game basically gave birth to Chinese Poker as it is played today.

If you can find a place that charges no commission on winning hands, this game is a good choice to pass some time and have a bit of fun.

With a low house edge and frequent splits, you won’t lose too much on most sessions. Of course, you shouldn’t expect to win huge, either, but like with any table game, you might go on a hot streak when you least expect it!

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